SCHENECTADY – The Schenectady County branch of the NAACP is alleging that Black candidates are being stifled by Democratic committees and groups within the county in favor of white Democratic candidates.
Leaders of those organizations are rejecting the claims.
“The current attempts to suppress people of color running for elected office at the city and county levels of government also seek to limit our right to vote for qualified representatives that reflect the demographics of our community,” said Rev. Nicolle Harris, the president of the Schenectady NAACP.
In a new release Harris uses the example that even though the Schenectady City Democratic Committee endorsed two black candidates for vacancies on the City Council, some committee members petitioned for a white candidate instead. She claims it was so both seats wouldn’t be filled by Black people.
City Democratic Committee Chairman Tom Bellick said those statements are incorrect.
“I am concerned about the press release distributed by the NAACP, suggesting that the City and County Democratic Committees have suppressed the candidacies of people of color in 2021,” Bellick said. “This is simply wrong, and a lie.”
Bellick said seven candidates were endorsed by both the city and county committees and of those seven, five of them were people of color.
“I am proud that our slate is the most diverse in the history of our party,” he said.
County Democratic Committee Chairman Joe Landry made comments similar to Bellick’s.
City Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said the city Democratic Committee voted to endorse Carl Williams and Haileab Samuel as candidates. Porterfield said Majority Leader John Polimeni, Vice chair of the city committee David Bouk and council member Carmel Patrick are supporting Doreen DiToro— a white candidate.
Porterfield said the move to support someone who wasn’t endorsed by the committee was unprecedented.
Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas is also supporting DiToro.
But having all members of the party back all of the endorsed candidates is not a rule, said Chris Gardner, the county attorney. Gardner is a member of the state Democratic Committee and was also chairman of the County Democratic Committee for eight years.
“The only rule is you can’t back Republicans,” he said.
He said in the past Porterfield had supported other candidates who didn’t receive the endorsement of the Democratic Committee. He said Porterfield is also currently supporting Damonni Farley, who didn’t receive the backing of the Democratic Committee.
The release also claims the same group of people challenged the petitions of another Black candidate to make sure that person wasn’t on the ballot.
But Gardner said Carl Williams filed a lawsuit against DiToro to get her thrown off the ballot.
“The only lawsuit filed was filed by one of our endorsed candidates, an African American, against an Italian American and it was unsuccessful,” he said.
City Mayor Gary McCarthy said the endorsements are only recommendations to people.
“The primary process still allows direct voter participation, so if you get the endorsement and I want to run and don’t have the endorsement I have the option of taking my case to the people,” McCarthy said. “I don’t believe color is a driving factor in it.”
Jamaica Miles, a Black woman who just won a seat on the Schenectady City School District Board of Education, said Black candidates always have a harder time than their white counterparts campaigning.
“We live in a society where there are always systemic and structural barriers to Black, brown and poor people,” she said. “I am a single mother with four children. I don’t have the same access and opportunity to go out and knock on doors every single day or sit and make phone calls over and over again.”
She said she did receive support from organizations and businesses that have generally supported white candidates.
Farley said people must focus on solutions to these issues.
“I’ve been talking to voters of all races who overwhelmingly support the efforts of organizations like the NAACP’s advocacy for greater diversity and inclusion in our city government,” he said in an emailed statement.
Harris said the NAACP has not endorsed one candidate over another in any of the races, but has a primary goal of making sure Black candidates are represented equally.